Ministry & Service

 

 

“BARRIERS TO GRATITUDE: Anger”

 

A Sermon by

 

The Rev. Dr. Douglas E. Nagel

 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

TEXT:  James 1:17-21 and Ephesians 4:26-27

James 1:17-21

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore, rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

Ephesians 4:26-27

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.


******

            There is an Anger Room in Dallas.  It opened its doors in 2008.  It now has franchises in Washington, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and major cities around the country.  There is even one in Stafford, Virginia.  Its motto is, “Nothing You Expect, Everything You Deserve.”

 

            Never been to an anger room?  Neither have I.  It’s stock in trade is the ability to unleash your inner two-year old and break recycled televisions, radios, mirrors, tables, chairs, computers, sofas, dishes and other household items with a baseball bat or a crowbar.  Of course, you are properly protected when you do this and, of course, you pay for the privilege.  Five minutes is $25.00.  Fifteen minutes will set you back $45.00.  A twenty-five minute “Demolition” will cost you $75.00.

 

            For a moment, you can let the evil genie of rage and anger out of its bottle and give full vent to your dark side.  You can act like Keith Moon, Mick Jagger, Lindsay Lohan or some other spoiled celebrity without a fear of being banned from the Holiday Inn for life or faced with a lawsuit for damages.

 

After all, it’s everything you deserve!

 

We have considered greed as a barrier to gratitude.  Greed is not content with what it has.  We have looked at selfish ambition as a barrier to gratitude.  Selfish ambition is not content with where it is.  Last Sunday we targeted envy as a barrier to gratitude.  Envy is not content with what other people have or where other people are in life.  It too is a barrier to gratitude.

 

Today we look at anger.  Anger is discontent with the way things are.  Anger is upset at my circumstances, the situation in which I find myself at any moment. 

 

Anger is a positive thing.  Anger is part of who we are as humans.  God gave us anger as one part of our emotional palette.  It is one arrow in our emotional quiver. 

 

Sometimes we cannot help becoming angry.  Anger is a legitimate emotion.  However, what we do with our anger can be less than legitimate.  It can be outright sinful and damaging to ourselves and others.  Why else does Paul admonish, “Be angry, but do not sin?”  Anger is an emotion.  What you do with that anger is a behavior.  When you weaponize anger, you sin.

 

There is such a thing as righteous anger.  God displays righteous anger.  We have all heard the phrase “wrath of God.”    Since we are made in God’s image, anger is just one aspect of that image. Untainted by original sin, anger would only ever be used in a righteous manner.  However, you and I both know that we do not use anger that way because sin has impacted every area of our lives.

 

J. I. Packer in his book, Knowing God, writes, “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is.  It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil.” (Knowing God, 151)  I wish I could say the same for my anger.

 

Jesus is God in the flesh, God incarnate, God with us.  Jesus became angry.  He upset tables in the Temple courts.  He made a whip of cords and drove out the money changers because they were cheating the people. 

 

Righteous anger is being angry about the things that make God angry.  Righteous anger is a dissatisfaction with a status quo that is out of line with the justice, mercy, love, compassion, and truth expressed in and through God’s revealed character.  We have righteous anger when we become angry at the way things are that are not the way God desires them to be.

 

Unfortunately, that doesn’t describe much of the anger I have or experience as I go through life.  Too often, my anger is an expression of my upset at not being in control.  I’m not getting my way.  Things are not going the way I want them to go.

 

In any interaction with another human being there is an opportunity for conflict.  They want their own way.  I want my own way.  We become angry.  When we become angry, we usually behave badly.

 

Here is a great true example of Christians behaving badly.  Minutes from a church fight at an unnamed church in Ohio in 1989 revealed the following (denominational labels have been dropped in this example to protect the guilty).  The Pastor was removed as pastor by a secret business meeting of the Board.  The Pastor then held his own meeting with himself, declared himself Pastor-for-Life, changed the locks on all the doors and excommunicated the malcontents.  He was a congregation of one!  The problem was taken up by a denominational review board when the State Police had to be called.

 

Anger is discontent with the way things are.  I can never be grateful when I am perpetually upset, and it seems that increasing numbers of people I encounter every day are upset, dissatisfied, offended, angry, and enraged.  They demand their own way and quickly begin to step on the rights of others even as they demand their own.  They, too, behave badly.

The truth is that releasing anger and rage feels very freeing.  Think of the Anger Room.  Releasing anger and rage really isn’t freeing.  Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University, has researched catharsis theory, which says that releasing angry emotions can help diminish them. But Bushman said the scientific evidence indicates otherwise. 

Breaking things "keeps angry feelings and aggressive thoughts active in your memory," Bushman said. "It’s like using gasoline on a fire: It just feeds the flame."[1]

Anger demands.  Grace gives.  Anger bludgeons others into submission.  Love serves and is generous.  Repeatedly in the Old Testament we read that the Lord is full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  (Psalm 116:5, Psalm 145:8, Nehemiah 9:17, Exodus 34:6, Jonah 4:2, etc.)   That verse is an expression of the very character of God.  It is the same character revealed in Jesus.

 

This is what James says in today’s lesson.  “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”  Every generous act reveals God’s character and God’s character does not change.

 

Thus, our giving to others in gratitude, graciousness, kindness, mercy, and generosity is simply the way we were originally designed in the image of God.  We are made to reflect God’s character.  When we give, we are like the God who made us.  Every generous act of giving originates with God. 

 

God made man and gave him a wondrous home filled with all manner of food.  God made the seasons and gave them so that the earth could rest and replenish.  God loved the world so much that he gave His only begotten Son.  God gave us birth by the word of truth.  The gift of your faith finds its source in God.  The Psalmist says, “Look to him (God) and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.”  Another translation reads, “Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.” (NLT) There is no shadow of turning with God or from God.

 

God gives.  Every perfect gift comes from God.  God is faithful.

 

One of my favorite hymns is “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”  We sang it yesterday at the Men’s Conference at Petsworth Baptist Church.  The author of the hymn text uses this James passage for inspiration as he writes, “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father.  There is no shadow of turning with Thee.  Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not.  Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

It is so easy to become upset, angry, and discontented with the way things are.  I get that way sometimes.  I don’t like the way things are.  They are not the way I want them to be.  Things do not always go the way I planned.  Life gets interrupted by speed bumps of various kinds.

 

In addition, I know that many of you are facing difficulties and circumstances that challenge your faith and test your patience and endurance.  Cancer, chronic illness, death of a loved one, divorce, loss, and many other things cause brokenness, sadness, and yes, anger.  Anger is the result of not being in control.  Anger is the result of things not being the way I want them to be.  Even worse, when things are not the way I want them to be, I can behave badly toward people who have done nothing specifically to anger me or antagonize me.  When our response are limited, frustration builds.  Sometimes we snap.  Someone bites my head off, not because they are angry or upset with me.  Something or someone else has upset them and I just happen to be an available target.  I do the same to others.

 

I have a confession to make.  I am not God. 

 

Isn’t that good news?  The good news for me is that you are not God either.  So, we all face the same problems.  During changing circumstances, God’s word to you is that even though you are not in control, God is.  God does not change.  There is no shadow of turning with God. 

 

We are encouraged by the Apostle Paul to “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you . . .” (I Thessalonians 5:18) Paul had to leave Thessalonica quickly because of persecution.  Even so, he admonishes the Church to give thanks in all circumstances . . . even persecution.

 

Giving thanks is an expression of gratitude.

 

Notice what this passage doesn’t say.  It does not say, “Give thanks for all circumstances.”  Frankly, giving thanks for all circumstances is one of the most difficult things to do because some circumstances are horrendous!  However, we can give thanks “in the midst” of all circumstances because God is God and we are not.  God is in charge and we do not have to be.

 

Nothing turns us into bitter, frustrated, selfish, and dissatisfied people faster than an ungrateful heart.  When we desire to play God, we become angry.  Anger prompts ingratitude.

 

Resting in God’s amazing grace prompts thanksgiving and contentment.  The Psalmist encourages us, “Be still, and know that I am God.  I am exalted among the nations.  I am exalted in the earth.  The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”  (Psalm 46:10-11)

 

So, how do we manage?  How do we get beyond those circumstances that frustrate, annoy, and anger us?  James says that this is what we need to understand.

 

BE QUICK TO LISTEN

 

            When things are out of my control, my flesh wants to say something or do something.  I react.  Suddenly I have the illusion of being in control because I am making something happen.  Usually, it is not something good.  Why?  I have started reacting and stopped listening.  God gave us two ears and one mouth.  Could there be a reason?

Before refrigerators, people used icehouses to preserve their food.  Icehouses had thick walls, no windows, and a tightly fitted door.  In winter, when streams and lakes were frozen, large blocks of ice were cut, hauled to the icehouses, and covered with sawdust.  Often the ice would last well into the summer.

 

            Once a man lost a valuable watch while working in an icehouse.  He moved the blocks of ice, cursing as he worked, making much racket.  He searched diligently for it raking hastily through the sawdust, but didn't find it.  His fellow workers also looked, but their efforts also were futile.  A small boy heard about the fruitless search and slipped into the icehouse during the noon hour.  He soon emerged with the watch.

 

            "Amazed, the men asked him how he found it.

 

            "'I closed the door,' the boy replied, 'lay down in the sawdust, and kept very still.  Soon I heard the watch ticking.'"  Often the question is not whether God is speaking but whether we are being still enough, and quiet enough, to hear.

 

            The prophet Elijah’s greatest triumph is at Mt. Carmel.  God shows up in power.  A three-and-a-half-year drought ends because Elijah now says it will rain.  But Elijah has made a rather bad enemy of Queen Jezebel.  She is out to kill Elijah.

 

            Elijah flees to Mt. Horeb, the site of the giving of the tablets of the law.  He is depressed.  Depression is often anger internalized.  Truth be told, I believe Elijah is angry with God.  God feeds Elijah.  God take care of Elijah.  God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here.”  Elijah answers, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword.  I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:14)

 

            God commands Elijah to stand at the mouth of the cave.  A great wind passes.  Then an earthquake occurs.  Fire follows.  Then silence.

 

            SILENCE!!  Do you know how deafening silence can be?

 

            It is in the silence that God speaks to Elijah.  It is in the silences that God often speaks to us.  When we are angry we are not listening.  We are not paying attention.  We are not seeking God.  We are too often seeking merely to get our own way.  LuAnn says that when I become angry I get louder and less rational.

 

            She is right!

 

Much wisdom can be gleaned from the Book of Proverbs about listening.  Proverbs 1:5 records, “. . . let the wise also hear and gain in learning, and the discerning acquire skill,” and Proverbs 19:20 admonishes, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom for the future.”

 

Listen!  Listen before you speak!  Listen to what others are saying.  Listen to what God is saying to you. 

 

Listen!

 

BE SLOW TO SPEAK

 

            I can tell you from personal experience that when my mouth is engaged, my ears are rarely working.  Too often, when I speak, I have stopped listening.  How about you?  In so many of our interactions with others, we don’t really listen.  We hear something another person says.  It triggers a thought.  We begin formulating our response.  At that moment, we have stopped listening and are still trying to dominate or control the situation.  When we are motivated by anger it is even worse.  We may never even hear the first thing another person says.

 

            The words we choose, the tone we use, the body language we put out, and for some people, and unfortunately for some Christians, profanity and cursing, are all ways we try to control our environment.  They are all tools in the toolbox of getting what we want and trying to play God.

 

            Repeat after me:  “I AM NOT GOD!”

 

            God encourages us to hold our tongues and be slow to speak.  This is not something that comes naturally to us in our flesh, but only comes about as we yield our lives, our thoughts, and our tongues to the control of the Holy Spirit and the influence of God word.  To have a Spirit-controlled mouth, I must first have a yielded life, a Spirit-controlled life.

 

            I am married, as you know.  Thus, I have had the benefit of domestication.  I needed it.  In other words, marriage civilizes men.  Ask any married man if this Proverb is true and you will quickly observe nodding heads, “Those who guard their mouths preserve their lives; those who open wide their lips come to ruin.”  Perhaps Solomon, with his 700 wives and 300 concubines, should have written, “. . . those who open wide their lips sleep on the couch.”  And Solomon is reputed to be the wisest man who ever lived!

 

            It is good advice for all, though.  Words get us in deep difficulty because we do not think before we speak.  We are quick to open our mouths and just as quick to insert our feet.

 

            In Colossians 3:8, Paul writes, “But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.”  God never demands of us anything that God’s Spirit working in us cannot accomplish.  The key is learning to submit to the working of God’s Spirit.  I do not have to get rid of those things.  God will get rid of them as I yield my life to Him!

 

            When we are quick to listen and slow to speak, we become slow to anger.  We begin to reflect the very character of God.  Remember?  “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

 

Be quick to listen.  Be slow to speak.  Be slow to anger.    In The Christian Counselor’s Manual ([Baker], p. 359), Jay Adams states, “Anger is a problem for every Christian; sinful anger is probably involved in 90 percent of all counseling problems.”  Your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 

 

            However, God’s righteousness in you will enable you to be grateful in every circumstance because you are trusting God and not your own ability to control the situation.  It will also begin to free you from anger.  How freeing to let God be God.  God’s righteousness in you will enable you to grow out of your anger, rise above your circumstances, and dwell in gratitude that God is in control . . . and not you.  Not me. 

 

            Only God.

 

            Soli Deo Gloria.  To God alone be the glory.  AMEN.

 

 

Grace Covenant Presbyterian of Gloucester has adopted the motto of

“To Know Christ, To Make Christ Known.”  

 

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